By Jeffrey Howard
FRANKLIN, Tenn. – The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) hosted their annual general membership meeting on December 1, 2012 at the Cool Springs Marriott.  The annual meeting is held the weekend of the annual horse of the year awards banquet and follows the final WHTA board meeting of the year.

Change is a common theme these days in the Walking Horse industry and the WHTA is initiating the change in the industry.  Earlier this show season, the WHTA voted unanimously to initiate its swabbing initiative which tested entries for the use of caustic or masking agents.  This action was a bold move by the WHTA to place the proper emphasis on compliance with the Horse Protection Act by its members.

In addition to voting the change in and helping with implementation, the WHTA also raised $180,000 in support of the initiative to help offset the cost of the program.  Randall Baskin challenged the trainers to a matching $100,000 pledge from Baskin to support the program.

With the introduction of the proposed amendment to the HPA H.R. 6388 by Congressman Whitfield from Kentucky and Congressman Cohen from Tennessee, the WHTA realizes how important their actions are to ensure the continuation of the performance Tennessee Walking Horse division.  To continue those changes, the WHTA nominated Link Webb, Jamie Hankins, Winky Groover and Mickey McCormick to meet with a group of veterinarians and farriers regarding the perception of the performance Tennessee Walking Horse.

Prior to hosting the veterinarians and farriers, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) continued the onslaught of public criticism by urging their members to contact their representatives in Congress in support of H.R. 6388.  This bill would eliminate HIOs and would ban the use of any pads or action devices.  “This bill is a death sentence for our industry,” said Hankins.

The meeting with the veterinarians and farriers was coordinated by Dr. John Bennett at the direction of the WHTA and hosted at his office on the initial evening, while the clinic was held at Saddlecrest Farms in Shelbyville.  During the meeting and clinic the following day the WHTA learned a lot about the perception from the public, the perceptions from the veterinarian and farrier community and realized that problems existed, however more importantly they learned it was a problem that could be overcome. 

At the general membership meeting, President Hankins addressed his fellow members and urged them to take continued action to promote the welfare of the horses they train and help with the perception of their horse in the public domain.  “We need to take control of our situation and make sure we do the things needed to protect our livelihoods.  For most of us this is all we have and it means more to us than any other group in the industry,” said Hankins.

“It was very evident from our meeting that the number one issue the veterinarians in attendance had with our horse was the package he wears in the show ring,” continued Hankins.  “However, the first thing we must do is move to one HIO that has one standard of inspection and speaks to the USDA with one voice for our industry.”

At the conclusion of the meeting the general membership took Hankins and the independent counsel serious as they unanimously supported one HIO and the WHTA initiating a meeting with all HIOs to begin that process.  In addition to this vote, the members also unanimously supported a move to mandate the use of colored action devices in 2013.  In 2013 as a result of this decision, action devices will be colored or coated to match the color of the horse in competition.  This decision will not change or alter the limit of six ounces for weight of the action device.

“Just as we have done with our enforcement initiative, we must take the lead to end soring in our industry and to ensure guidelines are followed to eliminate this practice,” urged Hankins.

Another item left to the membership to vote on was the location of the 2013 National Trainers’ Show.  Benny Johnson, co-chairman of the show with Buist Carr, gave a short presentation of the two locations that expressed an interest in hosting the show, the Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville and Great Smoky Mountains Expo Center in White Pine.  The members voted via ballot to have the 2013 show in Calsonic Arena.

The 2013 National Trainers’ Show will be held March 14-16, 2013 and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration gave $7,500 in sponsorship to the WHTA in exchange for locating the show in Calsonic Arena.  The WHTA will also approach the city of Shelbyville about a donation for bringing the show back to Shelbyville after a one-year stint in White Pine.

Each year during the year-end meeting the election of officers is held for the upcoming year.  The officers for 2013 were voted in by acclamation and included McCormick for President, Bill Cantrell for 1st Vice President and David Landrum for 2nd Vice President.  Four board seats were up for a vote by the members and those were filled by Dale Watts, Philip Trimble, Brandye Mills and Wayne Dean.  Dean, Trimble and Watts served in 2012.  Mills was a new member to the board. 

A fifth seat was open as Chris Bobo is leaving the board for his final two years of his term.  The WHTA bylaws state that a board member must be a full-time trainer.  Bobo recently took a job with the postal service and thus does not fulfill the full-time requirement.  Winky Groover will fulfill the final two years of Bobo’s term after the membership in attendance elected him.